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McKnight practices, but playing is up in the air

Times Staff Writer

Freshman tailback Joe McKnight on Monday took small steps toward possibly playing in USC’s opener Saturday against Idaho.

McKnight practiced for the first time in two weeks and is scheduled to be fitted today with a new brace to protect a stretched ligament in his right knee.

“I don’t feel rusty,” McKnight said after the Trojans’ no-pads workout.

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McKnight, however, has not been cleared for contact.

“He’s cleared to run and make his moves and do all that kind of stuff,” Coach Pete Carroll said. “They just want to take it one day at time and see how strong he is and see how he handles it.”

McKnight will have company along the sideline if, as expected, he sits out against Idaho to avoid further injury.

Carroll said senior Chauncey Washington is “not likely” to play because of a shoulder sprain and would use next week to heal in preparation for the Sept. 15 game at Nebraska.

Sophomores Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, Allen Bradford, freshman Broderick Green and senior Desmond Reed are competing for the starting position.

Gable is playing despite an abdominal problem. Bradford is nursing a hip injury.

Tailback Emmanuel Moody, who left USC in search of a more featured role, said he would enroll at Florida.

Moody visited North Carolina and had planned to visit Texas and Oklahoma State, but chose the Gators after visiting with Coach Urban Meyer and other staff members.

“I just really felt comfortable,” Moody said by phone.

Moody, the Trojans’ second-leading rusher in 2006, said last week that leaving USC was a “business decision.”

USC’s tailback depth has further dwindled since Moody’s departure.

“I heard about it,” Moody said of the injuries. “It’s ironic and it’s unfortunate.”

Asked whether he had considered that, had he remained at USC, he might be the No. 1 tailback going into Saturday’s opener, Moody said, “I really knew that was possible even before I decided to leave. I just really felt for my future this was the right decision and I’m confident in my decision.”

Moody, who will be a redshirt this season, said he had no second thoughts about leaving USC.

“I’m looking forward, not looking back with any what ifs, ands or buts,” he said.

Junior cornerback Cary Harris met with Carroll after practice to discuss his status.

Harris started 11 games in 2006, but junior Josh Pinkard, who started at safety in last season’s opener, has been playing with the first unit and is listed on the depth chart as a possible starter against Idaho.

“It kind of bothers me a little bit but I know I’ve got to focus and prepare,” Harris said. “Coach Carroll said, ‘Go and compete like you always do. Nothing is set in stone.’

“If I go out and play like I know I can in practice this week, I shouldn’t have any problems.”

Kicker David Buehler did not practice because of a strained right quadriceps, but said he would be at full strength against Idaho. Carroll said the competition between Buehler and junior college transfer Joe Houston remains open. . . . Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez (thumb) will probably sit out the opener as expected. . . . USC officials said that less than 2,000 tickets remain available for the game against Idaho.

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gary.klein@latimes.com


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